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Superman: Brainiac Attacks

Warner Bros. (2006), Warner Home Video (June 20, 2006), single disc, 75 mins, 1.33:1 pan-and-scan, Dolby Digital 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98

Storyboard:

The Man of Steel faces the combined threats of Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and a poor script.

The Sweatbox Review:

With only a recent showing on Cartoon Network, Superman: Brainiac Attacks was the most under-exposed show to come out in Warner’s “Super Week” of DVD releases timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Superman Returns. Most fans of the DC Comics’ icon would have already known if they wanted to get the various box sets of Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Lois And Clark, or Superboy. For me, I would have to answer, in order, “definitely,” “oh good gosh yes,” “okay but I’m not greatly enthusiastic about it,” and “you may pity me, but yes”. I even picked up Krypto, using the weak excuse that my daughter loves that show (which she certainly does), just to show how much of a Super-fan I am.

In my own collection at home, I have copies on tape of the 1960s Superboy and Superpup pilots, and even a scratchy old copy of the musical version of the character that was televised once in the Seventies. I have that old Super Powers tape of Filmation New Adventures Of Superman shows, as well as the Superboy tape. And lying around somewhere are a few taped episodes of the 1980s Ruby-Spears version. Also, I have a great (however misplaced) fondness for the Super Friends shows. And no one admires Christopher Reeve’s Superman more than I.

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I say all this just to show the rest of my fellow Superman geeks that I am quite familiar with the various versions of the character that have appeared over the years. And I haven’t even mentioned how many of the comics I’ve read. Let it suffice to say that few of you reading this have as much familiarity with the character as I do. That is not to say that I’m better qualified to judge any new version, just that I do have some perspective.

So, what is my perspective on Brainiac Attacks? Well, it’s not the worst that has ever been done with Superman. If you have seen this and you really think this is as bad as it gets, you likely haven’t seen Superpup, or the 1988 season of the syndicated Superboy. For those that have yet to see Brainiac Attacks, you are likely simply to find it a disappointment, particularly given its pedigree.

As stated, this is essentially a direct-to-video movie, save for a recent showing on Cartoon Network. By all appearances, it is a sequel to the much loved Superman: The Animated Series, a show that while not as groundbreaking or influential as its Batman:TAS predecessor, did manage to do a lot of things right. Unfortunately, this is not truly an extension of the animated series. It borrows the designs for the characters (although Superman looks a little stockier and less long-faced, while Jimmy Olson’s hair is a bit tamer), and brings back some of the rest of the cast (with a couple of woeful exceptions); but this is clearly set in its very own continuity.

Lex Luthor is lamenting the fact that he has been able to gather only a small fragment of Kryptonite, barely enough to threaten Superman. Right away we can recognize that this whiny simpleton is not the Luthor we know from STAS. This Lex’s voice is pitched too high, and comes with a strangely comedic delivery from Powers Boothe. It’s unsettling, when one is used to hearing this Luthor voiced by the bold Clancy Brown, and it only gets worse as more and more insipid dialog is delivered. But I digress…

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Out in space, Luthor has a defense satellite, the Lex 9000, which fails to stop an approaching meteor. This meteor happens to hold Brainiac, the computerized arch-nemesis of Superman. When Brainiac lands at Lex Labs, Luthor is uncharacteristically flabbergasted— hardly the always-in-control Lex that we have known previously. As Superman approaches the landing site, Brainiac distracts him by firing a missile at Metropolis, as Lois Lane looks dreamily on at her super-hunk. Again, this is behavior never seen in STAS, where Lois certainly had a fondness for Superman but never looked like a silly doe-eyed schoolgirl. Speaking of giddy schoolgirls, this is exactly how Lex behaves when he sees Brainiac take on Superman. One must cringe at the sight of Superman’s greatest enemy waving his fists and squealing like an idiot…. aaaand then he asks his aide Mercy to make popcorn. Uh-huh. Aaaaand when Superman blows his arctic breath at Brainiac to render him helpless, Lex gets a goofy look on his face and utters, “Oooh. Brain freeze.” Lex? Quipping? Argh! This is the wrong Lex!

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Later at the Daily Planet building, hints are laid that Lois is getting serious about Superman, and Clark is falling for Lois (there’s also a minor subplot about Jimmy finding a girl too). Meanwhile, “Slappy” Luthor has brought a piece of Brainiac to his lab in order to revive him. This leads to the two making a deal to destroy Superman and leave Earth for Lex, and you just know this partnership cannot end well. Further evidence of this movie being in a separate continuity comes when this meeting between Luthor and Brainiac seems to suggest that it is their first meeting, which of course was portrayed differently on the television series. Nevertheless, Slappy’s next action is to implant Brainiac into a rocket and send him up to the Lex 9000 for further upgrades.

Naturally, this leads to another big fight scene, when Brainiac locates Clark and Lois at a restaurant, where they are filling in for the Planet’s food critic. Clark is considering telling Lois his secret, having recently discussed the issue with his parents, just as Lois seems to be finally getting a clue; but the Big Fight soon takes precedence. Lois is injured/poisoned in said fight, and the only way to save her is later discovered at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It turns out that Superman must travel to the Phantom Zone to acquire a sample of “Argonium 44” (what the heck is it doing in the Phantom Zone?!).

Oh, I’m not going to give the whole thing away, partially because I’m getting bored just writing about it; but I will take some time to point out some problems with this movie. Sigh. Where to start?

Okay, first of all: If you want to avoid comparisons with the animated series, or present a story in a whole other continuity, then it is awfully dumb to use the same Bruce Timm character designs (with some minor tweaking), and hire the same actors. Tim Daley returns as Superman, which I personally was not excited about anyways since I never gravitated towards his rendition; and Dana Delany plays Lois again. Even Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares are back as Clark’s folks. But if you are going to bring everyone back, then how can you possibly omit the original voices for the villains? Powers Boothe is so radically different in his styling from Clancy Brown that I got very disoriented watching this thing. Lance Henrikson was far better substituting for Corey Burton, but it would have been even better if Burton could have been here instead.

And that Luthor! I don’t blame Boothe completely, because he was hired to do a certain job. But this version of Lex is insufferably foolish. This is simply not a credible threat for our hero, coming off as more Otis than Luthor. At least Brainiac is threatening here. How can you fear a Luthor who throws a luau to celebrate Superman’s disappearance, or who cheers Superman in his final confrontation with Brainiac? I fell out of my chair when Luthor told Supes, “I’m rootin’ for ya, my man!” Good grief!! By the time that Lex later calls Superman “Supey”, I had really had it with this movie.

Story-wise, the screenplay by Duane Capizzi almost seems to actually try something useful by advancing the Clark-Lois relationship, but dumps it all in favor of reverting to the status quo by the end of the movie. Similar “resets” are made during the story in other ways. The apparently anticlimactic Phantom Zone adventure turns into a frustrating cheat when a bona fide historic moment turns out to be infuriatingly false. The “magic potion” that Superman worked so hard to procure in the Phantom Zone ends up being destroyed anyhow, rendering much of the movie pointless. The momentous destruction of the Fortress gets reversed. And of course, Clark totally chickens out from following through on his big decision. This is just terrible screenwriting, not even including the horribly hokey method of ultimately curing Lois, which could have been redeemable if it actually amounted to anything. What was a weak ending actually reverses itself to become something even worse: irrelevant.

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Aside from Capizzi, whom else do we have to blame for this mess? Sadly, the blame falls to Supervising Producer and Director Curt Geda, who has had a respectable association with the Timm-designed DC Comics properties. This will have to be considered a fall from grace, but hopefully just a temporary one. Voice director Andrea Romano is regrettably missing from this production, as I doubt that she would have allowed all of Luthor’s hamming that Susan Blu must have encouraged. And I didn’t care for the music of Thomas Chase Jones either— it was simply generic and uninteresting.

Don’t worry, though. Superman has survived much worse than this. The off-Broadway It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman didn’t stop him, and neither did Superman IV. Brainiac Returns isn’t green Kryptonite; it’s more like red Kryptonite, simply altering Superman in a bizarre fashion for a short length of time.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Other than some marketing material, there are no bonuses to be found. The disc opens with a preview of the direct-to-DVD Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo, and from the Special Features menu you can go to additional Trailers for other Warner animated product, with an emphasis on Superman. There are ten trailers present, which is an impressive list but not really worthy of big points in terms of bonus material.

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Case Study:

The case’s artwork is quite mediocre, but at least we appear to be done with snapper cases once and for all. This comes in a standard keepcase, with no insert included. U.S. copies had a ticket voucher for Superman Returns, but it seems that Canada got left out of that promotion.

Ink And Paint:

The video is pretty much perfect for this release, with no appreciable artifacting, shimmering, or any other problems… except for the aspect ratio. I believe this was made for a widescreen presentation (though I may be wrong), while the DVD gets only a 4:3 transfer. Opening up the frame would not likely have enhanced my view of the movie, but the intended aspect ratio really should have been used.

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Scratch Tracks:

The best part of this disc is undoubtedly its sound. With full 5.1 Dolby Digital, the soundtrack is really quite dynamic. This is particularly evident in the fight scenes, with the piercing sounds of various laser beams, or the roar of jets zipping past from one rear speaker to the other. There are no alternate language tracks, while the offered subtitles are English and Spanish.

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Final Cut:

So where does this fit in? I’ve decided that this is really a direct-to-video offering of the Krypto TV show, just without Krypto. It sure isn’t the Superman: The Animated Series capper we had all hoped for. Poorly scripted, oddly conceived, and only mildly entertaining when it isn’t frustrating, this movie is for the diehard Super-fans who need to own every piece of Superman out there. (Well, like me.) While this movie certainly falls into the bottom half of the various film adaptations of the character, far worse has been done in the past.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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